Balladeer’s Blog’s 2017 post about Revolutionary War Privateer Captain Jonathan Haraden has proven to be a very popular item. Here’s another neglected American Privateer cut from the same cloth. And for the Haraden post click HERE
CAPTAIN SILAS TALBOT – Even if he had never gone on to a career in Privateering, Talbot would still have been a fascinating figure from Revolutionary War history. On June 28th, 1775 Silas was commissioned as a Captain in a Rhode Island regiment and served in the military operations which ended with the British surrender of Boston in March of 1776.
During the New York campaign Talbot and a picked crew sailed a Fire Ship into the 64-gun British ship Asia. Under heavy fire from the Asia and with his own craft already burning, Silas was the last man overboard, suffering severe burns which left him temporarily blinded. Talbot was promoted to Major upon recovering and rejoining his unit.
When the British attacked Fort Mifflin in November of 1777 Silas took musket balls in the wrist and hip, then was sent home to Rhode Island to recuperate. July and August of 1778 found Major Talbot back in action, overseeing construction of a fleet of flatboats to transport the American forces from the mainland to Rhode Island in the combined American and French campaign against the Red Coats.
In October Silas was placed in command of a 2 cannon schooner called Hawk, which he used to capture the 8 cannon British ship the Pigot in the channels around Rhode Island. Promoted again after that escapade, Talbot was placed in charge of the 12 cannon sloop Argo in the Spring. The intent: to fight Tory Privateer ships launched by British Loyalists which were spectacularly successful at ravaging and plundering American marine commerce in the area.
In May, 1779 the Argo captured the 12 cannon Loyalist Privateer the Lively and barely 4 days later seized a pair of British ships heavily laden with supplies and riches from the West Indies. Newport Tories had earlier launched the 14 cannon brig King George, which Talbot defeated and captured along with its commander, the infamous Captain Hazard.
On his next voyage Silas followed up that legendary David over Goliath victory by freeing a captured American Privateer ship from its British captors and sending it into New Bedford for refitting. Next the Argo seized the 6 cannon English merchant brig the Elliott with its cargo of dry goods and military provisions.
August of that same year brought on Captain Talbot’s fierce 4 and a half hour long battle with the British ship the Dragon. Though that craft outgunned the Argo 14 cannon to 12 and outmanned it 80 men to 60, the Americans emerged victorious but with the decks of both ships littered with the dead and the dying.
Talbot had his crew plug shot-holes on his own sinking craft and pump out the water, then secured the captured Dragon. Already figuratively limping and handicapped by towing its latest prize, the Argo encountered the 18 cannon English brig the Hannah.
Refusing to surrender, Silas captained his battle-ravaged ship against the imposing and fresh British vessel. Things seemed hopeless for the Rebels, but in a real-life ending straight out of a movie, the 6 cannon American craft Macaroni showed up just in time to help Talbot and the Argo defeat and capture the Hannah.
When the Argo arrived back in New Bedford with the two captured British ships, people lined the docks exclaiming at the battered, shot-riddled condition of Silas’ craft. Many expressed amazement that it had even managed to reach shore.
After refitting, the Argo returned to the open seas, teaming up with the Privateer craft the Saratoga to bring in the 14 cannon Tory Privateer the Dublin. The very next day Captain Talbot and his ship seized the British merchant brig Chance, transporting supplies to the Red Coat army. This prize, like the Dublin before it, was towed into Egg Harbor.
On the Argo‘s next cruise, the Americans spotted and spent two days and nights pursuing an unknown vessel which had fled at the sight of them. Little did Silas and his crew realize they were being led into a trap. The craft they were pursuing under the assumption it was a merchant ship was really the THIRTY CANNON British ship of the line the Raisonable.
Expert seamanship on the part of the Englishmen had kept things so that the Americans could only view the rear of the “fleeing” ship off in the distance, preventing even the best hand-held telescopes from making out its full complement of cannons. The Brits were biding their time for an inevitable becalming of the winds, which would hinder escape attempts by the lighter Argo.
When that circumstance presented itself, the Raisonable turned to and fired a broadside at the now-frightened Americans, who finally realized the peril they faced. Over the next several hours Captain Talbot and his crew exerted themselves to the utmost just to survive against their mightier opponent.
At last the wind returned and the Argo fled, with several men dead and its bulwark smashed. Naturally the much-heavier British craft could not overtake the retreating Americans.
In early September 1779 Talbot and his vessel captured the 16 cannon British brig Betsey, with a cargo of TWO HUNDRED FOURTEEN puncheons of rum. The battle had taken just over an hour but the victory celebration lasted who knows how long.
That same Fall the Argo seized a Tory sloop from New Providence carrying supplies to the British army in New York. Upon towing this prize into Providence, Captain Talbot learned he had just sailed his last voyage on the Argo.
The ship’s original owner, one Mister Low, had emerged from British-held New York and had proven his claim to the craft. The Argo was turned over to Low and Silas was promised command of the first available Privateer ship in the area.
In the summer of 1780 Captain Talbot set sail from Providence, RI commanding the 20 cannon, 120 man cruiser General Washington. On this inaugural cruise Silas and his men captured a British merchantman craft which had departed Charleston bound for London.
After towing that prize into Boston the General Washington next seized a British cargo ship from the West Indies headed for Ireland, but before that prize could be towed all the way to a safe port British warships recaptured it. Fleeing those English vessels and headed for Sandy Hook, Talbot ran afoul of the British fleet under Admiral Arbuthnot.
The General Washington, facing ships each sporting 74 cannon or more, fled but was eventually overtaken and captured by the ship of the line Culloden. Though treated courteously by the British officers who had apprehended him, Captain Talbot soon wound up in one of the notoriously hellish POW ships at New York, the Jersey.
In the closing weeks of 1780 Talbot and several other officers and men were loaded aboard the Yarmouth and taken to England, suffering horrific treatment along the way. In England, Silas languished in Plymouth Prison until October of 1781 when he was released in a prisoner exchange negotiated by Ben Franklin.
In France Captain Talbot recovered from the usual ill treatment meted out in prison, thanked Franklin for securing his release and in February 1782 set sail from Nantes. Eventually arriving home safely by way of New York, Stony Brook, Huntington and Fairfield, Silas Talbot’s Revolutionary War service came to a close.
Years later, Talbot served in the regular U.S. Navy and by 1799 was in command of the famous frigate the Constitution during its legendary adventures. +++
© Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.